Area lawmakers hold out hope
WORTHINGTON -- Ronald Reagan's famous quote, "Trust -- but verified," delivered when the United States engaged in arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union, seems apt in 2006 as Minnesota lawmakers prepare to embark on another legislative session.
Democrats and Republicans are promising bipartisanship as the 2006 session begins on Wednesday, but after disastrous results in 2004 and 2005, local legislators are hedging their bets. The most skeptical of all might be first-term Dist. 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who, while saying he's going in "with eyes wide open and with the purest of intentions," pointed out rather darkly, "We're coming into an election year."
With that in mind, Hamilton's colleague, Dist. 22A Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said that how March goes may be an indication on how the rest of the session goes.
"I think there's a strong sentiment on the majority of the Legislature to work together for the good of the state," he said.
Hamilton, Magnus and District 22 Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, all said Monday that getting a bonding bill accomplished is at the top of their priority lists. Hamilton said he wants it passed before the Easter break, and if it's still hanging around after that, 2006 may go like 2004 and 2005 before it.
Two years ago, Hamilton said, the House passed a bonding bill and the Senate didn't. In 2005, lawmakers tried to cram two years of work into one year, with less than stellar results. That the House and Senate are stocked with politicians is a fact not lost on the freshman representative.
"It's all about political positioning for the power and leadership," Hamilton said. "There'll be some (political) casualties, I'm sure. The voters are fed up, and rightfully so. My concern is the ones that should be thrown out, those are the ones that are going to survive."
The 2006 bonding bill has legislators everywhere talking. By all accounts, the size of the bill will be roughly twice as large as what was considered only a year ago -- $970 million according to some estimates.
"The first thing that I want to happen is to get the bonding bill passed, and not leave it to the end of the session," Vickerman said. "I want it out of the way, so it can't be used as a bargaining chip."
The veteran senator said there will be some "give-and-take" about the set-aside for environmental issues. Some lawmakers want to reserve about $200 million for environmental issues, but Vickerman sees $100 million as a more realistic figure in order to properly address health, transportation and education concerns.
Magnus said legislators will get a better handle on bonding after the budget forecast is presented today. He believes the forecast will show an ample amount of reserves on hand -- some of which he feels should be saved and not spent.
Magnus, who spent part of Monday working on farm chores, said he's not inclined to sit still in St. Paul should the session be held up in gridlock like it was last year.
"If we're gonna horse around this year, I'm just gonna go home," he warned. "I'll just go home and put up my crops."